river dolphin skull

Extinct Freshwater Dolphin Skull found in Peru

Scientists have found a fossilized extinct freshwater dolphin skull in the Amazonian river in Peru. This discovered dolphin skull species existed 16 million years ago and were 3-3.5 meters long. They were the largest known river dolphin species. The director of the Department of Paleontology at the University of Zurich said; “After two decades of work in South America we had found several giant forms from the region, but this is the first dolphin of its kind.”

Extinction of Freshwater Dolphin

According to Aldo Benites-Palomino from the Department of Paleontology at the University of Zurich (UZH) “the Peruvian Amazonia looked very different.” He goes on to say, “Much of the Amazonian plain was covered by a large system of lakes and swamps called Pebas.” This swamp-like ecosystem stretched over Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru, and Brazil. Ten million years ago the Pebas system changed, driving the Pebanista’s prey to disappear and leading the large dolphins to extinction.

Freshwater dolphins are once again at risk of extinction. Some scientists estimate that in the next 20 to 40 years freshwater dolphins will cease to exist. While the modern-day freshwater dolphins are not a direct link to the newly discovered species, Pebanista yacuruna, they are descendants of different cetacean groups that inhabited our rivers. Aldo Benites-Palomino said, “We [had] found an animal, a giant, whose closest living relative is 10,000km away in south-east Asia.”

The Amazon rainforest is full of fossils but is one of the hardest places to work in for paleontologists. They can only dig during the dry season when the river levels are low. This exposes the fossilized rocks but if the evidence is not collected in time, it will be washed away by the rising river during the rainy season. The discovery of the extinct freshwater dolphin skull was discovered in 2018 but due to the pandemic, the research and publication were delayed until now.

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